Microsoft preps Visual Studio for post-production duties

The newly launched Visual Studio Online package provides tools for online collaboration, editing and app telemetry

Recognizing how organizations need to produce and update their software more quickly, Microsoft has added an array of services around its Visual Studio IDE (integrated development environment) to help developers update and manage their software after it goes into production.

The company officially launched Wednesday its Visual Studio 2013. While most of the features for the newly updated IDE have already been unveiled through a series of previews, the company also introduced during the launch in New York a package of services called Visual Studio Online.

Visual Studio Online provides a way to keep track of an application once it has gone live, or into full production usage. It allows teams of developers to collaborate online. It also offers a lightweight browser based IDE for making quick changes to Web applications running on Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud.

With these services, "We will allow organizations to be more agile, deliver faster and deliver what people actually want," said Microsoft Technical Fellow Brian Harry.

Visual Studio Online addresses the emerging practice of devops, where developers work more closely with system operators to address issues more quickly, and to revise the software with greater frequency to more quickly meet user needs

"Every company is a software company now," said S. "Soma" Somasegar, corporate vice president of the developer division at Microsoft.

As a result developers must now "think about how to deploy the app and how to monitor the app and use that information to improve the application constantly," Somasegar said.

Running on Windows Azure, Visual Studio Online does not replace Visual Studio, but rather bundles a set of additional services for running devop-styled workflows in the enterprise. Most of the services are now offered in preview mode. Microsoft has not set a date for when Visual Studio Online will be ready as a full commercial service.

One service provides an environment for teams to collaborate on large software projects, one that keeps track of what sections of code have been checked out, and are being worked on by developers, as well as summarizing for managers the work being done by each developer.

Microsoft previously offered this service under the name of Team Foundation Service (TFS), which was a hosted version of Microsoft's Team Foundation Server software.

Visual Studio Online will also offer a service to compile applications in the cloud, as well as an elastic load testing service that can simulate thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of users.

"You can spin up a load in a very friction-free way on the cloud," Somasegar said.

Another new Visual Studio Online service collects telemetry data for applications built in Visual Studio. The developer can insert some JavaScript code in an HTML app, or add an agent to a .Net or Java application, which sends usage data back to Microsoft. Microsoft then makes the data available via online reports.

The telemetry service can provide data on how often an application is used, how long it is being used, and which specific features are being deployed. It can also provide crash reports and error logs.

Over time, Microsoft will add more ways that customers can download the data for further analysis, Harry said. "Our view is that the customer owns the data," he added.

Finally, the service offers a lightweight IDE, now codenamed Monaco, that runs on any browser, designed for making quick adjustments to applications running on Windows Azure.

For instance, a developer called to fix a bug after normal work hours could use the online IDE to adjust some JavaScript or HTML at home.

"It is a nice simple cloud hosted IDE," Harry said. It will allow a user to check code out of an Azure repository, make changes and check it back in. It will offer Visual Studio's Intellisense coding aid, but does not offer debugging. Or the ability to compile code.

While Monaco offers basic code editing capabilities online, Microsoft has no immediate plans to offer the entire version of Visual Studio online, in the way that Adobe shifted its Creative Suite software to an online only service. Visual Studio will be available as desktop software for a long while yet, Somasegar said.

Visual Studio Online is free for up to five users. Each additional user will be charged US$20 per month--or $60 a month for advanced features such as portfolio management, virtual team work rooms and feedback management.

For the preview period, Microsoft has cut the prices in half--so each user will be charged $10 per month, or $30 a month for the advanced package.

The service is also included in most of the MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) subscriptions.

For small development teams, Visual Studio Online can also be paired with a copy of Visual Studio Professional Edition for teams up to 10 individuals, for $45 per user per month.

Tuesday, Microsoft also issued an update to its unified runtime environment, .Net 4.5.1, as well as the fourth update to Visual Studio 2012, released last year.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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